Monday June 15, 2020
CPSC Consumer Ombudsman to Have Five-Part Mission
CPSC's recently created position of consumer ombudsman will have five broad mission goals. According to the position's charter (viewed by PSL), those involve helping to ensure that consumers and CPSC understand each other's perspectives; supplying plain-language explanations of CPSC processes, procedures, scientific principles, and technical information; aiding representation of consumer views at CPSC; educating and advising consumers and consumer groups; and supporting consumer engagement with CPSC.
The position is held by Jonathan Midgett, who has been with CPSC since 2001, most recently as science and policy advisor for Commissioner Elliot Kaye since 2014. He moved to the ombudsman position in April. Stakeholders got confirmation of the position last winter at the annual ICPHSO conference (PSL, 3/2/20) although the likelihood arose earlier at a hearing on CPSC's then-draft FY2020 operating plan (PSL, 9/30/19). The new ombudsman is under the Executive Director office. The job is modeled on the small business ombudsman, created in 1996 and reinvigorated in 2010 (PSL, 9/24/10).
The charter also outlined seven areas outside of the duties or authority of the consumer ombudsman: giving legal advice or determinations; setting or delaying deadlines; making agency decisions; making or authorizing CPSC policies, priorities, or activities; modifying or interfering with laws, regulations, etc. enforced by CPSC; disclosing or discussing enforcement matters such as investigations, litigation, or civil penalties; and disclosing or discussing any human resource issues.
Additionally, the charter gives more detailed information on allowed activities. Verbatim, they are to:
Meanwhile, a Q&A document gives some views by Midgett about the new position, including on:
"My immediate goal is to let people know that the position of consumer ombudsman has been filled and that I am ready to help them. I want to establish a presence on CPSC’s website and begin creating communication channels…"
"…In the long term, we want to create materials that enhance consumer understanding of the agency and promote participation in safety-related activities, such as voluntary standards and public education campaigns. We want to build networks for collaboration and content sharing so that consumer safety is advanced."
Recalls and recall effectiveness (his emphasis):
"Ideally, we want to work ourselves out of a job. I am a strong advocate for incorporating consumer’s needs into the product design process, so that products don’t need to be recalled. In my new role, I also want to encourage innovators to make recalls as easy as possible for consumers to hear about and respond to using new technologies…"
"… We need to work together to reach as many consumers as possible and constantly expand our network of organizations that can reach consumers with the right information at the right time. For example, I hope to build a network of consumer interest groups (hobbyists, affinity groups, clubs) because I want to make sure that those folks are getting our safety messages. If a consumer loves a product enough to belong to a club dedicated to it (say, a biking or off-road-vehicle club), reaching out to those clubs is a great way to reach those consumers – both to give them safety information and to hear their perspective on agency actions. I predict that we are going to see technology innovators who create methods of communicating with consumers that do not threaten consumer privacy."
"Rulemaking procedures won’t change, of course, but the Consumer Ombudsman may be asked to comment on consumer-related issues or to summarize consumer concerns for the Commission. Consumers who need extra help with voicing their concerns or in providing feedback to the Commission now have a person dedicated to helping them understand the process of making a contribution to a rule. I can help consumers formulate a response that is as helpful to the Commission as possible."
Having a "consumer voice" at CPSC:
"I want to provide staff with more resources for understanding consumer-related issues, so that decisions are fully informed about consumer perspectives. The Consumer Ombudsman will be a conduit for networking with consumers, so that they can engage with the agency and so that agency staff can reach out to consumer groups. I will also always be available to the Commissioners to provide the consumer perspective on agency policy."